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Underwriting Justice | Ensuring Accountability


The Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA) administers Washington State’s Children’s Representation Program (CRP). The mission of the CRP is to underwrite and oversee the delivery of effective standards-based, trauma-informed, and culturally competent attorney representation for children subject to dependency and termination proceedings in Washington State. This mission is grounded in the Washington State Supreme Court’s June 4, 2020 Statement to the Legal Community calling upon members of the judiciary and broader legal community to work together to eradicate racism in our law and justice systems, as well as OCLA’s own Race Equity and Justice Statement of Purpose and Commitments. We are committed to being an active partner in carrying out the Washington State judicial branch’s commitment to ensuring equity and justice for people and communities throughout Washington State.

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A History of Success

In 2017, the Washington State Legislature funded OCLA to conduct a two-year study of the impact of standards-based legal representation for children involved in child welfare proceedings. These standards included conditions on attorney training, caseloads, and practice. Final publication of the study report was released in November 2021 and documented significant, positive impacts from early appointment of well-trained attorneys providing standards-based representation for children and youth, including: 45% higher reunification rates; a 30% reduction in placement moves; and a 65% decrease in non-normative school moves. Read the full report here: November 2021 Dependent Child Legal Representation — Final Report.

A Future of Possibilities

Attorney representation of children in child welfare proceedings is a nationally recognized best practice. With the demonstrated success of standards-based legal representation in the state, the Legislature expanded a child’s right to counsel in dependency proceedings on a statewide basis in 2021. Codified at RCW 13.34.212(3), this new legislation ensures, subject to the availability of funds appropriated for this purpose:

  • Appointment of counsel for all children 8 through 17 years of age at or before the commencement of the shelter care hearing and for any pending or open dependency case where counsel has not already been appointed or privately secured.
  • Appointment of counsel for all children 0 through 7 years of age upon the filing of a petition to terminate parental rights, to include representation on both the termination proceeding and underlying dependency

In enacting this new law, Washington State has joined the growing list of states that provide counsel to youth in child welfare cases. Despite how far we have come, we have more work to do. OCLA’s CRP is committed to continuing to build upon our successes and to support a diverse community of well-trained, anti-racist, and equity-minded advocates for children and youth involved in the child welfare system. Will you join the fight?

Current Opportunities

We are currently seeking qualified attorneys on an independent contracting basis to provide standards-based legal representation to children and youth in dependency and termination proceedings in the following counties:

RFQ Ferry, Pend Orielle, Pierce, Stevens, and Wahkiakum Counties

Recruitment for Asotin, Chelan, Clark, Columbia, Douglas, Garfield, Lincoln, Okanogan, Spokane, and Whitman Counties will begin in 2025. For more information on the CRP’s recruitment schedule, click here.

Standards-based Representation

Attorneys contracted with OCLA are required to adhere to the Children’s Representation Practice, Caseload, and Training Standards adopted by the Washington State Supreme Court Commission on Children in Foster Care in September 2022.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of standards-based representation. As referenced above, the Evaluation of the Washington State Dependent Child Legal Representation Program (2021) documented significant positive impacts from the early appointment of standards-based, well-trained attorneys for children and youth. The report concluded that children receiving standards-based representation saw higher reunification rates and decreased rates of placement change and non-normative school moves. Read the report: November 2021 Dependent Child Legal Representation — Final Report

In 2022, an article in the University of Michigan Law School Scholarship Repository provided the final recommendations from the Quality Improvement Center on the Representation of Children in the Child Welfare System (QIC-Child Rep).

Compared to the control group, the experimental lawyers initiated more contact with the children they represented, created more discussion and collaboration with other players in the system, did more problem-solving, advocated for more services, and spent more time influencing the case plan and developing a theory of the case. Importantly, these different behaviors improved the child outcomes. Children represented by the experimental group tended to exit the system quicker. The effect of the lawyers was greatest at the beginning of a case. Children assigned an attorney in Washington State were 40 percent more likely to achieve permanency within six months compared with the control group. The permanency rate for all Washington State children who were appointed counsel was 16% better than the control group. In Georgia, the likelihood of permanency was also greater for the group of children represented by the QIC-trained attorneys and the effect was greatest in the beginning of a case. Within the first six months of placement, a child’s exit to permanency was 20% higher in the experimental group. For all cases from entry to 3 years in care, the exit to permanency was 17% higher.

Duquette, D. (2022). How to Improve Legal Representation of Child in America’s Child Welfare System. University of Michigan Law School Scholarship Repository. The full text of the article can be found here.                                                                                                                                                                       

Information and Resources for those Considering Relocation

Washington State continues to rank in the top of the US News and World Report’s list of best states. Washington is a hub for technology and business development, set against a backdrop of natural beauty, global cuisine, and a thriving art scene.

Washington State has a number of resources to educate and support you should you wish to reside in the Evergreen State. Below are some links that may assist you:

Admission to Practice Law in Washington State for Existing Attorneys.

Washington State permits attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions to apply for admission to practice in the State of Washington without sitting for the bar examination under certain conditions. If you are interested in this option, the Washington State Bar Association maintains a website with frequently asked questions regarding admission by motion to practice in Washington State. A link to the website can be found here.

More information about the Washington State Bar Association can be found here.